Unification News for September 2002

RYS/IEF Program in Sydney

by Paul Saver

Beginning on Friday evening, July 19th through Sunday July 21st, the Religious Youth Service (RYS) Australia, together with the International Educational Foundation (IEF) Australia, conducted an educational/social service program in Sydney, Australia. We were blessed to have as our main presenters Mr. John Gehring, the International Director of RYS plus Mr. Alan Saunders, Character Education consultant working from the IEF office in New York, USA. In our group of participants, we had 13 nations represented, reflecting the multicultural nature of Australian society. In fact Mr. Saunder’s was the only Aussie participant with ancestral roots in this country and yet he has been working in the USA for the past 21 years.

Unlike our previous program last June, when we had a number of young teenage participants, this time, all our participants were young adults and older. This helped to contribute almost immediately to a coming together of hearts and minds in a very mature and enriching way. The base of our activities was at the Ingleside Scout Camp where an open log fire and the sounds of kookaburra’s calling (affectionately known as Australia’s bush alarm clock) provided a rustic flavor to our event.

Friday evening began with a reflective listening exercise by which we could come to understand each other better and set the stage to build bridges of mutual love and respect. To listen well is not too common and yet is a prerequisite for leadership and all meaningful human relationships. After a short break, John Gehring guided our orientation consisting of an outline of goals, expectations, responsibilities, norms and organization for the weekend. This was done in a collaborative way. We had only been together for several hours, yet there was a feeling of closeness and a buzz in the air even as the clock approached midnight.

The first session on Saturday morning consisted of John Gehring introducing RYS through a powerpoint presentation. The history of RYS and it’s vision for how a peaceful world can be realized, that is, ‘world peace through interfaith dialogue and action,’ were major themes. This was followed by group discussions that focused on the questions, "What has religion got to do with peace?" and, "As a person and community how can faith (religion) help create an environment of peace?"

After lunch we headed to the nearby Baha’i Faith Temple. There are seven Baha’i Temples throughout the world. We were all impressed by the beauty and splendor of the large white nine sided building with a dome top rising up above the eucalyptus tree line. We were ushered into the visitor’s center where we watched a video that gave us an introduction to the history and main teachings of the Baha’I Faith. This was followed by a question and answer session with several of the elders. Next we watched a video titled, "The Power of Love," which was a review of an RYS project held in Italy in 1989. Both presentations affirmed the importance of breaking down the barriers of religion, race, nationality and ethnicity and forging a unity that can provide a working model for world peace.

Rather than just talk about it, the next phase of the program was to form into three groups to perform various cleaning and weeding tasks in and around the Temple. In this hands on mode together, sweating and working side by side, a natural bond of respect and friendship inevitably developed. We were joined by about a dozen Baha’i youth. One of the Baha’i elders repeatedly commented how impressed she was to witness the diversity of our group and the spirit of unity and enthusiasm we displayed in carrying out our service tasks.

A participant of Christian background said, "When people of different faiths interrelate with noble intentions we are all transformed through the experience and we realize that the sum of us is something far greater and pleasing to our Heavenly Father rather than any one religion. We then can view ourselves and others in a totally new light." Wow! What an incredible insight, I thought. I sensed that our Baha’i hosts were having the experience that their prophet Baha‚ ‘u‚’ llah envisioned more than one hundred years ago.

Later in the afternoon we returned back to the campsite for sessions focused on answering questions such as, "What important virtues have I learned from my faith, my family and my culture?"

After the group identified these values, they became the basis for creating group skits that were performed during the evening program. Prior to presenting our creative talents, we engaged in further discussion focused on the question, "What has my nation gained from its religious heritage and how can we as a people of faith do better in the 21st Century?"

After our skits we heard a heartfelt testimony from our brother, Thai Minh (Buddhist/Christian), who spoke of his life changing experience in attending the Nambucca Heads Project in January this year and RYS projects in Thailand and Malaysia last June.

On Sunday, Alan Saunders took center stage guiding us through various lectures and interactive exercises designed to help build good character. He began with a presentation titled, "Principles of a Meaningful Life," within the context of three life goals: personal maturity, relationships and contribution to society. Alan highlighted the importance of designing a "family mission statement" and goal setting. He stated that only 3 percent of the population bother to set goals but these same people have a 50-100 percent times greater chance of achieving their goals.

Even though there is a diversity of beliefs and rituals amongst people of the world’s faiths, there are common denominators or universal principles such as the existence of a Supreme Being, the Golden Rule and the supremacy of true love. A clear distinction was made between values per se and virtues. To realize good character virtues such as respect, responsibility, honesty, compassion and empathy need to be embodied.

To realize individual maturity and develop meaningful relationships, the pivotal nature of the family as the school of love and the role of marriage were highlighted. Recently, Alan completed a workshop with the Covey Institute in the USA and qualified to be a facilitator of their program called, "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families."

In the past we may have been led to believe that independence was an ideal to aspire to, however to become a good spouse, parent and citizen ‘interdependence’ is required. Further the bulk of our attention should be given to our ‘circle of influence’ as opposed to our ‘circle of concern,’ since only in the former case can we make a difference in our life and in the lives of others. Functioning in our ‘circle of influence’ we can be encouraged to be proactive. However in our ‘circle of concern,’ we invariably have little or no influence and easily end up with a reactive mindset which is self defeating.

After a stimulating morning we had lunch, packed up and traveled to the Oceania Peace Embassy in downtown Sydney. Many thanks to our cooks Mrs. Tanaka, Catrine and Aila whose heart and love over the weekend came through their cheerful service and the food they prepared. Our character education sessions resumed with a doubled number of participants joining us for the afternoon. The focus was on ‘Causes and Resolution of Conflict.’ The emphases were on understanding the divided nature of human beings, the different ways of dealing with anger and creating win-win situations.

Our grand finale was joining hands in one big circle and involving ourselves in impromptu singing and dancing. Rev. Moon has said that the "kingdom of heaven is a place of singing and dancing." This and the entire weekend was one big experience of outpouring of heart that remains permanently etched within us all. Thank you to God, the parent of all humanity. Thank you to all my brothers and sisters.

For further information and inquiries regarding future Australian, Oceania and world RYS projects please contact the Director of RYS Australia, Mrs. Aila Willitts. She together with others have been instrumental in laying a solid foundation for interfaith work in this country. Come on all you peacemakers out there. Jump on board.

Contact details: Aila Willitts, E mail: rysaustralia@hotmail.com. Web: www.rys.net/projects

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